The War Between Cigarette Smoke and Spirit


Whether you think of it as the Holy Spirit, the Eck, or the Force…it does not like cigarette smoke. In fact, Spirit won’t hang around where heavy concentrations of smoke exist, nor does the smoke need to come from Marlboro reds. It can be marijuana smoke or any other kind of smoke; Spirit simply doesn’t care.

I’d read about that in a book by Paul Twitchell in 1974. It made sense, but I had no idea I’d get to see the proof of that theorem, firsthand.

Fast forward to the depths of winter in South Dakota, circa 1975.

That year, I was a member of the Jaycees in Huron, South Dakota. One night, our fearless leader informed us that our group would be traveling the following week to do a “visitation”, going to attend a Jaycees meeting in Watertown. That is, any of us who could and would make the journey were encouraged to volunteer.

My second wife and I were at that time running a group home for troubled teenagers, but we didn’t have that many teens in residence at the moment. Carolyn assured me she’d be fine, staying home alone for the evening with the three girls who were our only live-in “family” until the next crisis brought us some new blood.

So naturally I volunteered.

There were seven of us packed into one full sized station wagon that night. It was mighty cold out, wicked nasty, but the highways were passable. The big wagon had size enough for all of us; we were pretty much elbow to elbow, but it wasn’t quite like being sardines in a can.

On the way back from Watertown, with nothing to do but pass the time, the conversation eventually turned to religion. Perhaps I made it turn. I don’t remember, but during the mid-seventies, as a relatively new Eckist, a follower of Eckankar, the Religion of the Light and Sound of God (which is not a Christian faith), I was somewhat religion minded.

Not excessively so. I wouldn’t try to convert a hardshell Baptist or a member of the B’Hai faith or anything like that. But if a person or a group of people seemed open to frank discussion of what Eckankar was all about, I was more than ready to stand and deliver.

Curiously, among the Jaycees that night, we had just such a group.

None of them were like, “Wow, sign me up!” They weren’t likely to shift gears, but they’d never heard of Eckankar, and they asked good, tough questions.

Six against one. My kind of odds.

It wasn’t really adversarial–not like the partisan political debates you see on TV these days, nothing like that–but I needed to be on my mental toes for sure.

I was the far left passenger in the back seat. The subject had been chosen, the questions were flying, and without breaking a sweat, I had the right answers. For twenty or thirty miles of highway coverage, it was like that…until I began to realize my brain, or more accurately my awareness, was failing me. The answers just weren’t there any more.

The others had noticed it, too. When I asked for a moment to ponder why this might be so, they courteously gave me that moment.

And then I got it.

“I’ve got it,” I told them. “The Eck (Spirit) won’t hang around smoke.” At least three people in the car had lit up and gone to puffing. The passenger cabin was choked with smoke, stem to stern. “Would you care to try an experiment? If you could put out your cigarettes, and let me open this window an inch or two, just long enough to blow out the smoke….”

It was an outrageous request. After all, the driver was one of the smokers; it was his vehicle. Who was I to ask him if he’d mind putting out his cigarette, even for a matter of minutes?

Beyond that, it had dropped below zero outside. When the window was opened, we all thought we were going to freeze to death in short order. The station wagon’s heater was a good one, but there was no way it could keep up with Old Man Winter at 60 miles per hour.

Amazingly–or maybe not so amazingly; they were a really good bunch of people–they stubbed out their smokes with good cheer and waited to see if this was going to work.

It did work. The moment I’d rolled the window back up and announced, “Okay, let’s see what happens,” the questioners started firing their missiles…and once again, I had the answers.

What those precise questions were, I don’t recall. After all, that was nearly 40 years ago. But if they followed the usual pattern, which I believe most of them did, they would have been asking me about reincarnation, the Immaculate Conception, how we (Eckists) viewed Jesus, Soul travel, dream state study, perhaps astral projection, Satan, God, and a few dozen other things as they came to mind.

We kept at it for at least another hour of travel time, discussing the spiritual mysteries of life as the headlights cut through the winter night, the snow tires hum-howling in accompaniment to the multisided conversation.

There were several remarkable things that transpired that evening, two of which struck me with unforgettable force:

    1. The Eck (Spirit) really will not hang around smoke, but the moment the smoke clears, it’s perfectly willing to reassume its rightful place.

    2. The others in the station wagon, most of them Christians from a Bible college town, got the message just as clearly as I did.

Now, it is clearly a war, this smoke-versus-Spirit dance, but it’s also sort of a “chicken or the egg” thing. Depending on which side you choose, the question could easily be asked: Does smoke push out Spirit, or does Spirit clear away smoke? Which is stronger? Is the one that seems strongest really the strongest of the pair?

If we wanted to take a simplistic approach, we could say, “Hey, Spirit is from God and smoke is from the Devil.” But it’s never that simple. Smoke as used ceremoniously by the Native Americans has obvious benefits. So do the pain reduction and emotional balance of judicious marijuana smoking by those who need it. Those of us who’ve depended on wood stoves for heating would not have survived without a bit of wood smoke curling up out of the chimney.

On the other hand, we all know that smoking leads to various forms of cancer and numerous other deadly ailments. Smoke inhalation during a house fire or wildfire will usually kill you quicker than the flames themselves.

That said, I know one thing for sure. I won’t ever attempt to tell another human being that he or she should avoid smoking (and thus avoid smoke), but I do make every effort to keep myself as far from cigarette smoke as possible. I’m better for it in many ways, not the least being my comfort level in knowing the presence of Spirit 24/7, 365…whether one calls it the Holy Spirit, the Eck, or the Force.